In the wake of last week’s news that former HP global president Mark Hurd accepted a job with rival Oracle, it was inspirational for me to learn about the Jake Locker story.  Jake Locker is a senior quarterback with the Washington Huskies.  Jake turned down an NFL offer to include him in its draft last spring so that he could return to play with his college colleagues for one more year.  Jake Locker turned down millions of dollars in signing bonuses and long-term contracts to honour a commitment he had made to help Washington and his teammates compete in a bowl game this year.

Think of this.  All Jake needs is a bad season or a serious injury and his career could be over.  But honouring a commitment is more important to him than financial security.  In an interview Locker gave last week to Les Carpenter of Yahoo Sports, he said “I will never have the opportunity to play college football ever again, I will never be able to come back here again to play with this football team”.  You see, the Huskies have gone through a long dry patch since their last bowl game.  Their glory years under leaders like Warren Moon or Chris Chandler are long gone.  The team has been in a rebuilding mode and under Locker’s leadership stands a real chance of being a contender again.  Fans and teammates surely would have been disappointed if he had accepted the NFL’s offer.

Locker risks everything for a promise he made to his teammates to play in a college bowl championship.  Keeping that promise was more important to him than the payoff of an NFL contract.  You just know that Locker’s decision will make every single player on the Huskies team collaborate more and play harder. They may not win the game but I bet they will come close trying.

At the end of the day everyone will be rewarded, not the least of which will be Locker. For doing what only a few years ago seemed to be the impossible, Locker will only increase his value at the next draft.   Teams know that they can always find talent but it is character that separates stars from players. I like to think that those of us in the business world can learn a lesson from the Locker experience. Loyalty and integrity to one’s commitments are not out of date.

Best teams don’t just happen.  They are usually created when people are willing to put aside their short term personal interests for the greater good.  What too many people don’t understand is that enlightened self-interest eventually reaps rewards.  Best teams outperform their competitors; they are happier; they stay together longer because a bond of loyalty has been built.  And the leader of that best team stands to benefit the most from a personal standpoint because without his or her initial sacrifice the best team would have never truly jelled.

Any smart employer – from an NHL franchise to H&K- will take note and reward this behaviour.  But at the end of the day, career advancement or compensation increases matter less than knowing you have the respect of your colleagues and that you know you have done the right thing.  You just know that Locker sleeps well at night.